THE HELPING HAND
Community Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator, Heart + Hand Outreach Ministries
Jennifer Keener has touched countless lives: the elderly community members to whom she delivers food, sometimes sticking around to give them the simple gift of someone to speak with; the children in foster care who have received twin-sized beds to sleep safely in; the locals who benefit from the program’s community garden as food costs swell.
A foster mom and longtime advocate for those in recovery, Keener has a deeply personal connection to her work. Like so many in West Virginia, her life has been touched by the opioid crisis, with Keener tragically losing her sister to an overdose. When she got the call that her sister’s children needed immediate placement, in addition to the pain she felt over the loss of her sister, she experienced the same logistical issues that other people in that situation do. “I didn’t have any way to buy three beds until the state got around to reimbursing me—so my personal journey puts me in a unique spot to share those kinds of situations with people.”
Keener’s honesty and advocacy have not only brought her the respect of her coworkers and community members, but have also broadened the tapestry of her family. When the granddaughter of a volunteer needed someone to take her in four years ago, Keener agreed to, even though her other children—both the ones she gave birth to and her sister’s children she adopted—are long grown. “So I have an 8-year-old, and she’s amazing and wonderful. She’s my biggest cheerleader and warms my heart every morning because she’s so positive.”
When asked about her superpower, Keener laughs and says, “Laughter, obviously! It has gotten me through everything.” That, too, is her advice. “Keep going and keep laughing.”
Written by Tara Wine-Queen
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Since 2014 WV Living magazine has been honoring West Virginia Wonder Women, amazing women who are raising the bar in their communities, serving as beacons of light in their industries, and forcing change for the greater good. WV Living is proud to celebrate these Appalachian mothers, millennials, and mavens proving that in a time full of uncertainty, divisiveness, and hate, love for one another is all we really need. No need for bulletproof bracelets or a golden lasso of truth—these women are creating a better West Virginia with their can-do attitudes and Mountain State spirit.